Andrew Davidson of the Telegraph tells the story of his grandfather, Fred Davidson and his time as a WWI Doctor. Fred passed down three photographic albums from the time while at war.
There were 250 photographs that spanned across 1914 and 1915. Fred Davidson was a 25-year old medical officer with the 1st Cameronians, a branch of the British Expeditionary Force. The troop sailed across the English channel to battle against the Germans at the beginning of the war. The pictures ended in April of 1915. They are more remarkable because the photos were forbidden to be taken, this order was given expressed by the Army.
Andrew decided to research the stories behind the various photographs his grandfather took. He began his long journey in Britain where his father was born. From his birthplace, Andrew traveled the road of his grandfather’s childhood: the cliff-top village of St. Cyrus in Scotland, then to where he gained his education, and then to Cameronians archive in Lanarkshire. Here lies a war museum and a collection of memoirs from various locations through out the country. The trail finally ended at the Armentieres and Soissons in France where Fred fought.
The story that Andrew was able to form was that of a man ad his friend and their passion to document their experiences on the front lines. Fred had a specific goal: to show the doctors struggle to become an accepted member of the army. The now famous camera company, Kodak, ran a campaign in 1914 with the tagline “Kodak pictures never let you forget.”
Fred’s photographs ended in 1915 because he was shot in the hip and in the hand while he was trying to treat a casualty. Medical officers had been told not to leave the trenches, but fried and many other doctors just could not sit back and watch people die while they waiting to be brought in for treatment.
Fred was a medical officer in the famously bloody-minded Scots regiment. The officers thought nothing of breaking the rules imposed by the Army. They kept diaries and took photographs, leaving a paper trail that made their year of the war easy to reconstruct. From the photographs and the captions in Fred’s album, Andrew was able to reconstruct their daily lives.
Many of Fred’s albums were filled with pictures taken by someone else, as Fred was in many of the photos. Lieutenant, Robert Money, was the man behind the camera. Money went to school at the Wellington School and Sandhurst military college. He was ahead of the Cameronians camera club and he made a nice income selling early photographs to the newspapers. He and Fred bonded as older lieutenants, a pair of 25 year olds who were surrounded by 20 year olds. They bonded because Fred spent five years learning to become a doctor at Edinburgh University and Money failed more than once before finally making it into Sandhurst.
The two men were also aided and abetted by lieutenant, Douglas Moncrieff Wright. Letters in the archive show that Writer was smuggling films under plain paper. He had his mother process the film both he and Money took while their time in Perth.
More photographs were taken by Lieutenant Douglas Graham. His photos showed up in newspapers. The commanding officer, Colonel Roberston who was a field sport buff was often pictured smoking a cigarette–and turning a blind eye to the photography.
Graham may have enjoyed having his photographs being taken, he saw now hard of photographing gun placements and trench networks. This information could have been extremely valuable if the photos fell into the hands of the enemy. By then the practice of taking informal photographs of daily life had become a custom among the soldiers.
With the advent of folding cameras were quick to operate and they encouraged informal photography. By the time the Cameronians had engered the trenches at Houplines, they were survivors of the Mons retreat. The men were unshaven, piratical, frozen and over-come with live. Despite all this, the men were happy to be photographed living in a make-shift town build from housing debris that covered mud-hole shelters. These were the images and times they wanted to remember.
The photos revealed all the characters in ways that words could not express. Tubby Wood was the barrel-chested Cockney quartermaster who was promoted from the ranks–nor was he more than a foot from a flagon filled of rum. Wood was released from the army for drunkeness after the war and he died penniless in a mental institution in Glasgow. His fellow officers lobbied for the reinstatement of his pension. “Bull” Chaplin was a hard-driving major and also a polo player. He refused to let his men go over the top at the battle of Loos. He argued that it was a pointless waste of life. Darius Hill was a law student, an archeologist enthusiast, and lieutenant. He broke from the billets in Septmonts to go fossiling as though he were on vacation.
By December of 1914 when the Army order forbade photography once again, the 1st Cameronians stopped taking their photos briefly. Eventually, the men resumed their picture taking with a renewed gusto. They wanted to go into go at it from a journalistic point of view. There was nothing off-limits–except for the dead and the wounded.
By the time the Daily Mirror had ran the contest for the best amateur photograph from the front lines, Fred Davidson had already been shot and sent home. The very first thing he does when he wakes up in a nursing facility was to take a photograph of the nurse–who would eventually become his wife.